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Op-ed: What Makes Him Gay?

Op-ed: What Makes Him Gay?


Isn't it time we stopped defining male straightness so narrowly? Gay liberation should liberate straight guys as well as gay ones, but our ideas about it are just catching up.

We all know the old double standard: Sexual fluidity is celebrated in women but treated with skepticism or worse in men. If a straight woman kisses another woman, or goes to bed with her, it's understood to be part of the continuum of her sexuality; but if a straight guy messes around with another man, it's cause for judgment, suspicion and hasty label-making.

Given the social taboos against gay male sex, the argument goes, no man would experiment with another guy unless he really, really needed to. Ergo, any guy who has ever fooled around with another guy must be gay -- or at least decidedly bisexual. It's an outdated, fundamentally homophobic view: the sexual-orientation equivalent of the old racial-purity laws whereby a single drop of so-called "black blood" defined you as black.

It would be one thing if this antiquated attitude were limited to homophobic straight men (to whom any hint of homosex makes alarms go off), or even of worried straight women (who don't want to be stages in the coming-out journeys of gay men). But many gay people -- eager to "claim" celebrities or acquaintances for the gay team -- often share this approach, gleefully gossiping about same-sex encounters by people who say they are straight.

The implication is not just that straight-identified men who have dabbled in gay sex have skeletons in their closets, but that they have the closet in their bones: that they are "actually" gay and only pretending to be straight, whether because they're in denial to themselves or just lying to the rest of the world to protect their careers or reputations. In reality, male sexuality is a whole lot of more complicated -- especially in a culture that is increasingly tolerant of homosexuality.

When I was in college, the sexual revolution was just beginning to sweep through Russian culture. Although I knew by then that I was gay, I didn't have many ways to meet guys, and I became sexually involved with a girl from my school. Did that make me straight? Happily, it did not.

Meanwhile, I was infatuated with a male friend of mine. One day he stayed late at my place to study for exams, and ended up sleeping over; we shared a bed, and one thing led to another. We fooled around several more times. Did that make him gay? Sadly for me, it did not: He fell in love with a girl, and that was that. I was devastated, but despite our little affair, he was straight and both of us knew it.

This kind of thing happens with women in college all the time. There are even cute acronyms to describe this phenomenon: LUGs (for Lesbians Until Graduation) and BUGs (Bisexuals Until Graduation). Shouldn't guys have a similar freedom to be Homos Until Graduation? Why not embrace the HUGs?

Straight actor Thomas Jane, the handsome star of the HBO series Hung, helped push the dialogue forward last month in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, when he broke a taboo by talking openly about gay sex he had when he first arrived in L.A. He was careful, at first, to frame it in terms of economic necessity: "I didn't have any money and I was living in my car," he said. "I was 18. I wasn't averse to going down to Santa Monica Boulevard and letting a guy buy me a sandwich. Know what I mean?"

But Jane didn't stop there. "It's not a choice until you're open enough to experience both male and female sexuality," he continued. "Until you've tasted the food, you don't know whether you'll like it or not, as my mom always said."

As a culture, we understand that sometimes straight men will have sex with other men when no women are available, like in prison, the Navy or boarding school. It's when choice is involved that some people get dubious. But as homosexuality continues to grow in acceptance and cultural visibility -- and as sexuality becomes more accepted as a values-neutral issue, like taste in food -- Jane's mother's attitude should carry the day. Men of all ages should feel free to explore the full range of experience without feeling like they are hiding something or making some grand statement about themselves.

In the days before the civil-rights movement, mixed-race people were sometimes accused of betraying the African-American community by "passing" as white in the general culture. This was an understandable resentment, but also unfortunate: By assuming that these mixed-race people were "actually" black and only pretending otherwise, critics of passing implicitly accepted the racist logic of the "one drop" rule.

We are now more sensitive to the reality that race is not a binary question. A root of black ancestry does not make you black, and a strand of same-sex attraction doesn't make you gay. Like racial identity, male sexuality should not be treated as if it were simple as black and white.

MICHAEL LUCAS created Lucas Entertainment, one of the largest studios producing all-male erotica, in 1998. He lives in New York City. This article is the opinion of the writer and not The Advocate.
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